Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Easy-to-grow peas, snow peas and snap peas

Patrick Lima
Photography by
Roger Yip

These sweet garden treats are great for first-time food growers

We have always been organic gardeners, but I confess that most of the pea seeds we plant are coated with a mild fungicide that sterilizes a tiny area of soil and keeps seeds from rotting in cold ground. Don’t water seedlings unless spring turns hot and dry, and don’t thin them out. They’ll emerge tightly clasped, then open into decorative vines of rounded, light green leaves and lacy tendrils that wind tightly around anything slender—twigs, string, wire or netting—within reach. Pods dangle at the tops of pretty plants that climb from knee-high to waist-high; they are much easier to find and pick if vines have support. Give them something to grasp and up they go.

Traditional pea fencing was fashioned from shrub or tree prunings, slender twiggy sticks called pea brush. You’ll need 120-centimetre-long cuttings. Trim the ends on a sharp angle and push the branches firmly into the ground between rows of peas, close enough to form a continuous twiggy hedge. Before long, you’ll have little trees full of peas.

Growing peas on the vine
The best time to set up a pea fence is just before seeding or, failing that, just as seedlings are emerging. Pea vines will also run up a trellis draped with nylon netting (sold for that purpose).

Rainfall may see peas through from germination to flowering, but a couple of soakings as the green seeds are plumping in their pods makes a noticeable difference in size and yield. Mulch with compost, straw, leaves or grass clippings after a rain or a deep watering to keep the earth cool and moist as summer starts to swelter. Mildew can be problematic in humid weather, but in our experience, peas are mercifully free from insect damage and disease—as long as they get an early start.

Pick your peas when they’re full, round and sweet but not overgrown; unzip a few pods to check for size and taste. Sling a basket over your arm, pick up and down the row, then again to find pods hidden in the greenery. Next, settle into a comfortable place and get into the shelling rhythm—open pods, run a thumb down to dislodge peas into a bowl and toss the empties into a bucket for composting.

Simmer fresh peas in just a little water for two to three minutes until they’re bright green and tender; when the peas are done, the water should be all but gone. If there’s a more delicious homegrown vegetable, I can’t think what it might be.

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